6 October 2020
Author: Elizabeth Lee and Sophie Boldog
China’s rural population is increasingly marking its presence on the digital realm. As rural internet users pass 250m, more digitally-savvy youths are claiming ownership of online platforms (Source: Yicai Global). Young people have even switched Animal Crossing for locally developed Canal Towns, a simulation game where players can build an agricultural life in the Ming Dynasty.
Rural tastelessness, or tu dou, has led Chinese youth to embrace a pastoralism once familiar with their ancestors. According to Wang, tu dou started on social media: ‘Within every generation there is a group who would want to opt out. This includes cultivating a lifestyle away from the city, away from competition and going back to live with the natural world.’ This draws parallels to the 1970s Down to the Countryside movement, when 17m urban youths were sent to rural areas to be reeducated by farmers.
Fuelling this interest, rural vloggers are captivating viewers with their idyllic worlds. With a following of 9m, Li Ziqi is part of this new generation sharing their bucolic lives, with videos ranging from ancient winemaking techniques to bamboo weaving.
Meanwhile, video channel Yitiao is a dedicated space showcasing Chinese and Asian youth setting up homes in the countryside. The lifestyle reportage includes a recent graduate adopting a craftswoman’s life in the mountain and an all-female village house, signalling a growing demand for tu dou entertainment.
Disenchanted by the capitalist state, Chinese youth have for years been exploring their cultural identity. Now, enter guofeng, which translates to national style – a cultural genre including traditional music, dance and arts. Circulating through vloggers such as Shiyin and Xiao Dou Kou Er, guofeng now has a strong youth following.
Under the guofeng umbrella is hanfu, Chinese traditional dress. Beginning as a microtrend, it is now a buzzword among brands. This year, Hanfu became a genre in ACG (anime, comic, game) at ChinaJoy2020. Hanfu lovers are even using dedicated apps such as Gutao and Huaxiao, reminiscent of Instagram. Its key to remember that although hanfu celebrates Chinese heritage, its emphasis is on the Han ethnic group – who make up 91% of the mainland's population – and excludes the country’s diverse minority ethnic groups.